Scientist Nickolay Denkov became Bulgaria’s new prime minister on Tuesday after the joint government established by rival political forces GERB/United Democratic Forces and We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria was approved by parliament.
Denkov, a member of We Continue the Change, said that the cabinet will work towards Bulgaria entering the Schengen zone by the end of 2023, systematic changes in border control management, a low state budget deficit and mto reduce easures inflation, as well as starting a “campaign against the disinformation around Bulgaria’s adoption of the euro”.
Last December, Croatia joined EU’s Schengen zone while Bulgaria and Romania’s applications were denied due to the resistance from Netherlands and Austria, which were demanding reforms to tackle corruption.
Denkov responded to criticism of the unlikely coalition government, which has mainly come from the president and pro-Kremlin parties.
“There is nothing more natural than the Bulgarian parliament electing a regular government to take on its constitutional duties. I am really surprised that this is a problem for some parties – maybe it’s all part of their propaganda, but that also goes for some institutions such as the presidency,” he said.
From the beginning of their negotiations, both We Continue the Change and GERB did not offer their party leaders (Kiril Petkov and Boyko Borissov) as potential prime ministers in order to demonstrate willingness for a dialogue.
Tense talks after the April 2 elections led to an experimental 18-month governing format in which first nine months will be under the rule of We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria, headed by Denkov, and the second nine months by GERB/United Democratic Forces, with Denkov resigning and Mariya Gabriel stepping in as prime minister.
Sixty-year old Denkov was deputy education minister from 2014-2016, and caretaker education minister in 2017 as well as from May to December 2021. He then headed the education ministry in the 2021-2022 Petkov cabinet.
Before entering politics with We Continue the Change, Denkov was known mostly for his career in science. He is a member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Sofia, where between 2008 and 2015 he headed the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy.
His vice-premier and successor-to-be, GERB’s Mariya Gabriel, was a member of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2017 and vice-president of the European People’s Party group from 2014 to 2017. Since 2019, she has been GERB’s European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.
Gabriel has been connected to several controversies. On May 14, she confirmed she has no PhD in political science despite claiming to have one in a promotional video from 2009 when she was running to be an MEP.
She has also been the subject of investigations into claims that between 2010 and 2017 while she was an MEP, she was renting a municipality-owned apartment that was supposed to be for socially disadvantaged individuals. Gabriel stated in 2017 that she was using the apartment as a storage space.
In the new Denkov-Gabriel cabinet, We Continue the Change co-leader Assen Vassilev returns as minister of finance, a position he held as an interim minister in 2021 and as part of Petkov’s cabinet in 2021-2022, when Bulgaria cut ties with Russia’s giant Gazprom.
Another key appointment is Todor Tagarev, an outspoken military expert on Russian meddling in Bulgarian politics, as minister of defence. He previously held the same post in 2013.
Curiously, the new energy minister has the same name as the new government’s biggest opponent, President Rumen Radev. Radev the minister is deputy chairman of the Association of Industrial Capital in Bulgaria.
Julian Popov will be environment minister and is looked upon as a possible source of reformist thinking. He is a senior adviser to the European Climate Foundation, as well as chairman of the Building Performance Institute Europe.
Source: Balkan Insight